Welcome to the 2011 Session

by Melissa Brunner

While finishing setup and waiting for the inauguration ceremony to begin Monday, Rep. Eber Phelps of Hays stopped and commented that I must be on my 15th legislative session. He remembered, he said, because my first session also was his first. He sat in the back row, where the media set up behind, and recalls me mentioning I was somewhat new in one of our chats.

Not that I didn't believe him, but I had to count! Sure enough, this is the 15th Kansas legislative session I'll be following. Every year, there are new faces and returning faces; there are new issues and issues that never seem to go away. This session, though, will bring a twist: a conservative Republican governor in the form of Sam Brownback.

The conservative/moderate split in the GOP has been around for years. The last Republican governor, Bill Graves, was generally considered a moderate. Through his years, and continuing through Democrats Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, coalitions of moderate Republicans and Democrats would form to break gridlock on various issues, despite conservative Republicans holding legislative leadership positions, particularly in the House. The special session on school finance and last session's sales tax to balance the budget come to mind, along with the statewide smoking ban and state-owned casinos.

The 2010 elections, though, hint at a shift. Not only did Democrats lose several legislative seats, but, in several campaigns, we saw Republicans trying to outdo each other in painting themselves as THE most conservative candidate, including some you might have been more apt to place in the moderate camp in the past.

How this impacts the next 90 days remains to be seen. Certainly, Gov. Brownback's conservative credentials are well-established. Does that mean lawmakers will revisit social issues that simmered on the back burner the past eight years? Will some of the compromises struck in the past be undone? Do you want them to be? Call me idealistic, but I operate with the belief that all who serve under the dome truly believe they are doing the right thing. I'll be watching to see how that's defined in the months ahead.

*Reminder: an excellent place to begin your journey through the legislative session is at  www.kslegislature.org. It contains contact info for lawmakers, committee hearing schedules and texts of bills.




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